Horror Film Aesthetics
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Horror Film Aesthetics
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think of British horror films, thoughts turn to Hammer (with a nod to Amicus). But now for something completely different: A book about INDEPENDENT British
horror cinema, 1970 -- 1979. Ten years, ten chapters.
years? The editors explain: "When people talk of the long tradition
of British horror cinema, they're talking about a myth. In fact,
British horror films only thrived for a twenty year period. Before
1960, there had only been a handful of genre movies made in the UK; and
since 1980, horror film production has dwindled to an almost non-existent
British horror began flowering in 1960, why not Twenty
Years of Terror? Because, the editors believe, British horror
cinema peaked in the 1970s, both creatively and quantitatively: "The
1970s saw boundaries broken down, taboos challenged, censorship under assault
and the rule books torn up. It had never happened before, and it
hasn't happened since."
editors acknowledge Hammer's past contributions, they believe that by the
1970s, independent filmmakers had assumed the creative cutting edge:
particularly under the leadership of Michael Carreras -- seemed to have
little idea of how to deal with the sweeping changes that were taking place. It's sobering to think that while William Friedkin was shooting The
Exorcist and Wes Craven had made The
Last House on the Left, Hammer were dusting off Terence Fisher
to grind out another Frankenstein movie."
of Terror is part film encyclopedia, with production credits
and analyses for each film entry. Its huge format resembles the Overlook
Film Encyclopedia, yet naturally, its coverage of 1970s British
horror is more extensive. Vastly so. The Overlook's
horror edition covers all North American and European horror films up till
1992, plus films from Japan, India and Latin America, yet is only 1/3 longer
Years of Terror. Ten
Years of Terror lavishes over 300 pages for films that the Overlook
covers in under 30.
of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films, covers
nearly a century of British horror in 283 pages, compared to Ten
Years of Terror's decade in 336 pages.
Years of Terror offers much more on 1970s British horror films
than previous books. But what more is there? No, not padding. There's meat -- and blood and guts and gore. This is a beautiful
book, hugely glossy, lavishly illustrated, in resplendent color.
143 film entries, 733 illustrations, 48 pages in full color. That's
what it claims. I didn't count, but it doesn't appear off base.
to ten chapters, there are appendixes for: (1) short and experimental films;
TV movies and series (for BBC and ITV buffs); (3) borderline cases (what
didn't quite fit the editors' definition of 1970s British horror); (4)
foreign films shot in Britain (including by us Yanks), and (5) unfilmed
British horror movies (some films that were announced but not completed). Appendixes also illustrated, although the entries are briefer.
Years of Terror should not be confused with all those other
oversized horror film books, scant on text, heavy on the same old glossy
stills. Like them, Ten
Years of Terror is big and beautiful, oversized and lavishly
illustrated. But it's thick with text. And its stills are rarities,
-- there's more!
was written by Norman J. Warren, director of such British gems as Horror
Planet (aka Inseminoid) and Terror.
saw Terror in a New York theater, some 20 years
ago. Terror soon sank into obscurity, forgotten and
ignored, and I've been partisaning its revival ever since. I discussed Terror in my NYU film school paper on horror films
(1982), and in Horror magazine (1997), and
and in my anthology book Halloween Candy (2001), and in the Hollywood
Investigator (2004). Happily, Ten
Year of Terror grants proper coverage to Terror (Fragments
of Fear doesn't even mention the film), generously illustrated.
disagree with part of Harvey Fenton's critique. He calls Terror's
script "well-written" and adds: "Terror is
an audacious achievement; objectively speaking, there are undoubtedly better
movies covered in this book, but few can compete with this film for simple
entertainment value. McGillivray's script is efficient and unobtrusive;
its sole purpose is to string together the many delightfully exuberant
Terror is wonderfully enjoyable, and stringing together scenes does appear to
be the script's sole purpose. But a script should also create a coherent
with cause-and-effect plotting. Instead, Terror is one of those rare films that becomes less coherent upon repeated viewing. However, that's because one enjoys Terror so much,
one fails to notice that its story makes no sense -- none at all. It's only after one sees Terror a few times, growing
familiar with the twists and turns in the rollercoaster, that one sees
the plot holes.
Warren's later Horror
Planet (aka Inseminoid) is also
great fun. A slasher film on a harsh planet. Think Jason meets Alien. Although Ten
Years of Terror concentrates on British indie horror, it covers
all British horror films of the 1970s, Hammer and Amicus included. If the reader is still in doubt as to the fecundity of that period, perhaps
it will help to recall these films, all covered in the book:
House That Dripped Blood, Scream
and Scream Again, The
Vampire Lovers, Lust
for a Vampire, The
Abominable Dr. Phibes, A
Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Hands
of the Ripper, Straw
of Evil, Asylum, Captain
Kronos--Vampire Hunter, The
Creeping Flesh, Dracula AD 1972, Frenzy, Horror
Express, Psychomania, Tales
from the Crypt, Horror
Hospital, Theatre of Blood, The
Wicker Man, Craze, House
of Whipcord, The
Rocky Horror Picture Show, Vampyres, The
Omen, Satan's Slave, Holocaust
2000, Schizo, The
Legacy, Alien, Saturn
100 more. Only a few entries are non-horror (e.g. Clockwork
Dogs). And mere inclusion does not mean the editors love
the film. They disdain The Uncanny --
a film I much enjoy (I've a soft spot for horror anthologies, and for Donald
Pleasance, and for Samantha Eggar).
of which, the trade paperback cover of Ten
Years of Terror features the skull from Amicus's Tales
from the Crypt. Enthralled by its TV commercials, I spent
years waiting to be old enough to see it. For those who came of age
pre-HBO, the Amicus version will always be the "true" Tales
from the Crypt. (Curiously, the hardback's dust jacket
features Ingrid Pitt instead).
Years of Terror is a treasure trove, and I'm sure many horror
fans will spend hours drooling over the book, recalling films they'd perhaps
momentarily forgotten. Others will thrill with the first blush of
discovering a rare gem.
Years of Terror is destined to be the definitive text of independent
1970s British horror cinema.
Review copyright by Thomas